|Henry Maudslay was born at Woolwich on August 22nd 1771. His father was a weelwright, who had moved to Woolwich, and found work at the Arsenal, as a storekeeper in the dockyards.
Henry worked as a powder monkey in the dockyards at a very early age, making and filling cartridges. At 14 he had moved into the carpenters shop with his father, although he took every opportunity to slip into the blacksmiths shop where he became familiar with working with iron.
In 1780's the famous locksmith Joseph Bramah was looking for someone to produce the tools required to make his new precision locks. Henry Maudslay had built up a strong reputation as a smith and tool maker. Although still only in his teens, Henry was recommended to Bramah who engaged him. Within a few years, Maudslay had been appointed as head foreman of the works.
Maudslay set up his own business in 1797, in Oxford Street (London), producing machine tools made to order. One of his most successful tools he made was the slide rest lathe. This allowed people to turn large pieces of metal, very quickly and with exact precision. To many people it was regarded as the most important development in the production of machine tools. James Nasmyth (inventor of the steam hammer) said the following about the slide rest lathe :-
its influence in improving and extending the use of machinery has been as great as that produced by the improvement of the steam engine in respect to perfecting manufactures and extending commerce.
The lathe was used to make the tools and machinery needed by Marc Isambard Brunel for manufacturing ships blocks. This brought Maudslay considerable business and fame. In 1810 he moved his works to Westminster Road (Lambeth). He went on to improve the original slide lathe and invented new machine tools and manufactured flour and saw mills, mint machinery and steam engines.
One of his most successful new tools was a machine that could automatically punch holes in boiler plates, which resulted in him gaining a contract to supply the Royal Navy with iron plates for ships tanks. His machine replaced the work that had previously been carried out by hand. Other tools improved the method by which the thread on screws were cut and he produced attachments for his slide lathe which could plane and cut slots in metal.
As his fame spread all over the country many future engineers came to work for him as apprentices, amongst these were Nasmyth, Roberts, Muir, Lewis and Whitworth.
Henry Maudslay died in 1831
See the Timeworks review of "Henry Maudslay and the Pioneers of the Machine Age" by John Cantrell and Gillian Cookson. (Tempus Publishing, ISBN 0 7524 2766 0)